Vitamin D could represent a natural therapeutic method against multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new study. Researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine have discovered that the so-called sunshine vitamin can block nerve damage in a mouse model of the autoimmune disease. The findings may represent a significant step towards halting and ultimately reversing one of our most debilitating disorders.

For some time, researchers have been trying to figure out why the incidence of MS is significantly lower in regions close to the equator. Many now believe that the sustained sunlight of these areas may have a protective effect against the nerve-destroying disease. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the current study sought to determine whether vitamin D — a key nutrient derived from sunlight — is associated with this effect.

To investigate, the researchers designed a trial involving lab rodents afflicted with a mouse model of MS. They found that subjects who received a high dose of vitamin D did not exhibit the usual symptoms associated with the disorder. According to lead author Anne R. Gocke, this suggests that the “sunshine vitamin” may offer MS protection that parallels that of current drugs. "With this research, we learned vitamin D might be working not by altering the function of damaging immune cells but by preventing their journey into the brain," she said in a press release. "If we are right, and we can exploit Mother Nature's natural protective mechanism, an approach like this could be as effective as and safer than existing drugs that treat MS."

As subsequent biological analyses nonetheless confirmed a strong disease presence in the form of nerve-damaging T cells, the researchers theorize that vitamin D suppresses debilitating symptoms by keeping the disease out of the brain. "Vitamin D doesn't seem to cause global immunosuppression," Gocke explained. "What's interesting is that the T cells are primed, but they are being kept away from the places in the body where they can do the most damage."

According to the Mayo Clinic, MS is a so-called autoimmune disorder that turns the body’s own defenses against its most essential parts. Rogue T cells begin to erode myelin, the protective sheath that covers nerves. The degeneration, which disrupts communications between essential organs, eventually results in irreversible nerve damage.

Today, MS affects upwards of 2.3 million people worldwide. Although the disease is no longer considered a death sentence, it remains incurable with current medicine. To learn more about the disorder, visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s online database.

Source: Source: Grishkan IV, Fairchild AN, Calabresi PA, and Gocke AR. 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 selectively and reversibly impairs T helper-cell CNS localization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.2013; published ahead of print December 9, 2013.